France grabs attention in Pacific islands as New Caledonia referendum takes place

FILE PHOTO: French President Macron attends a meeting with representatives of New Caledonia in Paris
FILE PHOTO: Elysee Palace Secretary General Alexis Kohler, French President Emmanuel Macron and French Foreign Minister Sebastien Lecornu meet representatives of New Caledonia at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France June 1, 2021. Bertrand Guay / Pool via REUTERS / File Photo

December 10, 2021

By Kirsty Needham

SYDNEY (Reuters) – New Caledonia is pushing for a referendum on independence from France this weekend, despite fears that a boycott by pro-independence parties who oppose holding the visit in the context of the coronavirus pandemic with the potential for an outbreak of violence.

France’s decision to hold the final in a series of three votes on Sunday, against the wishes of the indigenous Kanak people, drew condemnation in neighboring Pacific islands, which are sensitive to belonging. high localization.

The Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), which includes Vanuatu, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and the major New Caledonian independence party, has called on the Pacific island nations not to recognize the result.

The 1998 Noumea Agreement, which laid out the path to potential independence, agreed to three referendums to determine the future of the country. [L4N2SV0P2]

With two previous polls, in 2018 and 2020, that resulted in a narrowing of the “No” vote from 57% to 53%, Sunday’s vote was the last chance for the “Yes” campaign to hit the mark. be mostly simple.

Pro-independence groups have accused France of refusing to delay the vote until the end of 2022, as allowed under the Agreement, to reduce the chances of a “Yes” vote and appease nationalists. ahead of the French presidential election early next year.

Kanak leaders say the pandemic has prevented house-to-house mobilization in villages. They also want to allow for a time of traditional mourning – about 300 people, mostly Kanaks, have died from COVID-19 since September with a population of about 270,000.

New Caledonian parliament speaker Roch Wamytan, a pro-independence leader who signed the peace accord, raised concerns on Thursday at a United Nations committee on decolonization. .

Former secretary general of the Pacific Islands Forum, Meg Taylor, wrote to the former leaders of Tuvalu, Kiribati, Palau and the Marshall Islands to French President Emmanuel Macron on November 23, warning of violence. potential force if the poll is conducted.

Election observers from the United Nations and the Pacific Islands Forum arrived in the capital, Noumea, along with 2,000 policemen from France to maintain order.

The Treaty of Noumea itself was agreed to to help end a decade of conflict that resulted in 80 deaths.

George Hoa’au, acting director general of the Melanesian group, said that the French were “not very good at fighting colonization.”

“They are not good at establishing equal relations with the former colonies,” Hoa’au told Reuters in a phone interview. “We are not allowed to have this kind of association with indigenous people in the 21st century.”

Taylor told Reuters that decolonization is a priority for Pacific island nations: “Is it a legitimate process when people aren’t in attendance?”

A spokesman for France’s Foreign Minister, Sebastien Lecornu, who was en route to New Caledonia, said the COVID-19 infection rate had been “on a positive trend for a month.”

“We know that December 12 is not a date of unification… but it is the duty of the State to fix it,” he said.


A spokesman for Lecornu said France would “draw from this non-participation, which is a very strong message sent by independence advocates, but this opt-out will not replace or annul the results of three referendums”.

Lecornu said his office would seek dialogue with all parties on the day after the referendum.

However, New Caledonia’s Rassemblement party leader and former president, Thierry Santa, have said such dialogue is unlikely until after the French presidential election. Santa has linked the French decision to renewed attention in Paris on the Pacific Ocean, and anger when Australia dumped a major French submarine contract.

“It is absolutely certain that Australia and the US tearing up the submarine contract affected France’s attitude towards New Caledonia,” Santa, who has an anti-independence party, told

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham in Sydney; additional reporting by Tassilo Hummel in Paris; editing by Jane Wardell) France grabs attention in Pacific islands as New Caledonia referendum takes place


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